That’s right; we have entered a new era of hope. Of impetus. Of action. Of… well, of change. But, as always, it’s a gift that is not bestowed upon us lightly. We have to endure a lot of emotional trauma along the way.
The episode picks up where last week’s left off; June is still reeling from the bombs that have rained down upon Chicago, from the loss of Janine (Madeline Brewer), and from coming face-to-face with her long-lost best friend, Moira (Samira Wiley).
“I came back for you. I came back to help you, and I fucking found you,” says Moira, every bit as stunned as June.
“It’s not safe, Moira,” her friend replies distantly. “You shouldn’t be here.”
And thus begins a tense back-and-forth between the duo, as June insists she cannot flee Gilead without Janine, and Moira absolutely refuses to leave her behind.
Based on everything we’ve seen of June so far, we, the viewers watching at home, can’t help but panic that our eponymous Handmaid will get her way (she has, after all, proven herself to be absolutely bloody terrible at escaping).
Eventually, though, Moira lies to her friend and promises that Janine will be back at the outpost where her non-profit has set up near the docks. It’s enough to get June’s feet moving in the right direction, but don’t worry, loyal Handmaid’s Tale fans; there are still plenty of obstacles to overcome.
For example? Well, there’s the fact that June wants to stay behind in Gilead to search for her daughter, Hannah (Jordana Blake).
“You can’t make me leave without Hannah,” she tells Moira desperately.
“How are you going to get to her, huh?” her frustrated friend snaps back. “Look at you, you piece of shit. You don’t even know where she is. How are you going to find her?”
Tearfully, June tries to make Moira understand. “They took her because of me,” she stresses. “She was so scared. She was so scared.”
“She’s safer without you,” Moira fires back. “They’re gonna look for you. They’re gonna hunt you down, and they’re gonna kill you. And they’ll kill you in front of her.
“You want to help her? You leave her the hell behind, and you come with me. You want to fight them? You fight them from Canada. We will help you. The Canadians will help you. The American government, whatever’s fucking left of it, is in Canada. They will help you. I’ll be there. Luke, Emily, Rita, everyone who loves you is there.”
Then, as if struck by a sudden bolt of inspiration, Moira plays her trump card; June is, after all, a mother of two.
“Nichole, Nichole is there,” she says. “She needs you. She’s growing up, and she’s amazing, but she needs you because you’re her mother. You’re her mother, OK. Come on, June. Come on.”
June may be convinced, but Moira’s girlfriend, Oona (Zawe Ashton), is not. In fact, she’s adamant that June can’t join them on their voyage back to Canada.
Frustratingly, her reasoning is sound; as NGOs, they cannot take refugees with them; if they do, then they risk their own freedom and lives, and the future of their entire operation in the process.
“Gilead finds out we took her, no more missions, no more food, no more medicine, nothing for any of these people,” she says furiously. “You think June is more important than every one of them? I’m sorry.”
Moira, however, is adamant that June is coming with them. “It’s life or death,” she pleads, and – as it turns out – she’s 100% correct. Because, once June is aboard the ship, they learn that Gileadean officials will be boarding and searching the vessel for any stowaways.
As one, almost every single person aboard votes to hand June over, despite the fact that it almost certainly means she will be killed. And June, sick of people dying for her, is well and truly on their side; in fact, she even offers to try and steal a boat to get back to Gilead with.
Eventually, though, Oona softens her stance. She has June dress up in some of their clothes and adopt a false identity, so that they can get her away to safety… even if she isn’t happy about it.
“You put me in a position where I had to either save her or kill her,” she tells Moira furiously. “You don’t think I’ve ever had to leave anyone behind? Every mission, you don’t think I’ve had to make hard choices, choices that keep me up at night, that I regret every single day?”
Anyone else think that this particular relationship might be over by the time we reach the shore?
Speaking of relationships, there’s someone waiting for June back in Canada – but she’s absolutely terrified of coming face-to-face with him.
We’re talking, of course, about Luke (O.T. Fagnbenle). She’s terrified what her estranged husband will say about her leaving Hannah behind, how he will judge her for it, how he will react. She’s anxious, too, to learn how their relationship has shifted in the years since they last saw one another; after all, the last time Luke heard from June was through the cassette tape in which she explained her relationship with Nick (Max Minghella) and pleaded with him to care for their baby daughter.
When Luke walks into the ship’s hold to meet her, it’s a little… well, it’s a little hard to figure him out. Is he confused? Angry? Disgusted, even? His expression is utterly unreadable, and we, much like June, are left wondering exactly what the future holds for this couple.
“I’m sorry I don’t have her,” she tells him tearfully. “OK? I’m sorry. I’m sorry it’s just me, I’m sorry it’s just me. I’m sorry.”
It is at this point, however, that Luke’s own tears start. He wraps his wife up in his arms. He reassures her that she’s OK. And, carefully, he leads her off the boat and watches intently as she prepares to take set foot on Canadian soil.
For a moment, it seems as if she’s unable to do so – physically and emotionally. Then, looking straight down the barrel of the camera, Elisabeth Moss locks eyes with viewers, takes a deep breath, and steps forward.
Could it be… could it be that our girl is free at last? Really and truly?
As ever, this episode has left us with a lot of questions. Here, Stylist’s digital editor-at-large Kayleigh Dray does her best to unravel all of them.
Will Luke and June ever be able to reconnect?
While Luke has been waiting years to finally reunite with his wife, it’s unclear how they’ll be able to connect after all that June has been through. Her trauma, her horrors, her time in Gilead sits between them as unmoving as an old stone wall – so is there any hope for the once happily married couple?
Speaking about their reunion, O.T. Fagbenle tells TV Insider: “[Luke has] been desperate to connect with her and to have a teammate in trying to get their daughter back, but he kind of finds someone who’s really been damaged by what she’s been through and also grown in many ways — in her leadership and a desire for vengeance in a way.
“He has to contend with that and figure out a way to be with it or not be with it. That’s kind of key to their relationship going forward.”
Fagbenle adds: “A lot of what Luke has to try and figure out is who June is post these most traumatic experiences that she’s been through.”
What does June’s intake of breath mean as she steps off the boat and onto Canadian soil?
Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter, Samira Wiley explains: “There are so many things that breath means… the reason she is even on that boat is because Moira brings up her other daughter, Nichole, who lives in Canada. That breath encompasses all of this. It encompasses everything that she has left behind, that she has given up to be here and make this decision. But also, there is almost a question mark at the end: ‘I don’t have to be afraid?’
“One of the last things Moira says to June when we get passed the guards is, ‘We’re going to Canada. You made it.’ And those are words that I’m sure are kind of unbelievable to June when spoken. That breath, I think, has so much in it. And, as we all know, Lizzie Moss as an actor put everything into that breath and I think we’ll see in episodes seven, eight, nine and 10 everything that breath means.”
Will June ever be able to forgive herself for leaving Hannah behind?
June may have fled Gilead, but that doesn’t mean she’s truly escaped its damaging clutches. We know for a fact that Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd) endlessly tortured the Handmaids into believing they are to blame for all the evils committed against them.
And so, just as they were forced to chant “your fault, your fault” at one another at the Red Centre, Gilead’s victims continue to turn their blame inwards. And it’s all too clear, from June’s interactions with Luke and Moira, that she truly does believe herself to be a bad mother for leaving Hannah behind.
We can only hope, then, that her loved ones are able to convince her otherwise.
Who will June be now that she is no longer a Handmaid?
Clearly, June cannot go back to who she was before Gilead. And, just as clearly, she cannot remain the rebellious Handmaid we know and love… so who will she be in Canada? Well, much like Moira and Emily (Alexis Bledel) before her, she faces a struggle to reconnect with herself. Because, while she is undoubtedly a survivor, she bears the mental and physical scars of the endless abuse she has been subjected to. And, while she was a rebel, a fighter and a symbol of hope back in Gilead, in Canada she will be stripped of this status; now, she’s yet another American refugee. A grieving mother. A helpless civilian.
It will undoubtedly be interesting to see how she adapts to this.
Did Moira do the right thing?
Rescuing June comes at a price; it has damaged the NGOs operations in Gilead, not to mention Moira’s relationship with Oona. And yet…
Well, this is more than simple nepotism on Moira’s behalf. Yes, she broke the rules to smuggle June into Canada because June is her best friend, but there’s no denying that June has come to represent more than this; this is the same woman, after all, who helped to rescue over 80 children from Gilead, inspired revolt, poisoned a number of high-ranking Gileadean officials, and gave her fellow Handmaids something (and, more importantly, someone) to believe in.
Rescuing June was, in this writer’s opinion, 100% the right decision. If only because she is thoroughly sick of enduring the horrors of Gilead at this point.
How will June and Moira’s friendship be impacted by all of this?
“June is the missing part of the puzzle to Moira’s happiness,” Samira Wiley tells THR. “But when she finds June, she’s coming up against the realisation that it’s not going to be as easy and it’s not going to be as much of a fairytale as she wants it to be. And that’s difficult for her because she has carved out her life away from June and it’s worked out – not perfectly, but pretty well – and so she’s wanting June to fit into that somehow.”
Is Janine dead?
As reported on 18 July, after episode five aired: Narratively, it makes a lot of sense that Janine is dead; after all, June has unwittingly led many of her friends to their death this season – what’s one more?
Despite this, though, many fans believe that the Handmaid is still alive; not just because it seemed as if the series was setting her up as its new protagonist, but also because… well, because there wasn’t a body.
“I think Janine’s alive, simply because I think they’d have shown us her death if she was really gonna die, so I say she’s not dead,” one predicted. “But I also think we won’t know until the end of the season or possibly season 5 she might turn up to be alive.”
What has Madeline Brewer said about her character’s fate?
When speaking with TheWrap, Brewer refused to say whether or not Janine’s decision to go with June would prove a “fatal” one.
“Who is to say whether or not it was a fatal choice? I will not say,” the actor said. “But the fact that Janine made a choice based on just herself and what she thought would be best for herself… I think she made a choice based on the fact that she loves June, she does.
“She loves her like a sister, like a friend, like her own blood.”
Why was Moira in Gilead?
Moira is part of the force of NGOs sent to aid those on the border after Gilead agrees to a temporary ceasefire, although they bomb the frontier heavily just before the ceasefire is to officially go into place. A diplomatic mission, we hasten to add, that Commander Lawrence set up… hmm.
Who is Commander Lawrence working for? Really?
Lawrence put June in the line of fire when he organised that air raid, but he was also responsible for setting up the diplomatic mission and temporary ceasefire that saw her reunited with Moira. So, when he told Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd) that he wants to “fix this country” and “make things right again,” did he mean Gilead or the OG America?
Is Nick… evil now?
Nick (Max Minghella) might love June, but he has become a very powerful Commander within Gilead. He has a seat on the Council, he has the ability to spare Commander Lawrence’s life, and he is just… yeah, he’s a proper Gileadean mover and shaker. Yes, he says he’s double-agent, but could it also be that he’s seeking power for another reason all together?
What does Rita really think of Serena?
As reported on 11 July, after episode four aired: Rita (Amanda Brugel) is summoned to the cell of her old mistress, Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski), who greets her former Martha as an old friend and reveals that she’s pregnant… with a boy.
For a hot moment, it seems as if Rita is happy for Serena, praying for the baby with her and barely flinching when Serena refers to her as a “friend.” Later, however, we see Rita visit Fred Waterford (Joseph Fiennes) in prison and bluntly inform him that his wife is pregnant.
“You deal with your family,” she tells him. “It’s not my job anymore and I thank God for that every day.”
It’s an unexpected move from Rita, but one we can get behind. Indeed, during her visit to the detention facility, Rita “recognises Serena trying to weave her web of ‘I miss you, I miss our friendship,’ and the word ‘friend’ is like a dagger,” Brugel tells TV Line.
“So while Rita is happy for her and happy for the baby, she slowly realises that she’s been drawn back into this web and knows that finally she has the freedom to decide whether or not she wants to engage. And she doesn’t.”
Is Janine shaping up to replace June as our new leader?
Janine has always been viewed by the likes of Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd) and the other Handmaids as being somehow weaker of mind and spirit than the others, and she’s the only person in the world left that June can rely on. However, showrunner Bruce Miller has promised that Janine will surprise all of us.
“At the end of the year it’s actually Janine’s arc of leadership,” he tells Variety. “She takes a lesson from June and really by the end has to take on a mantle of leadership, and she does. It’s a protégé story: What does her protégé turn into? A lot of her ruling philosophy is the same as my mother’s parenting philosophy, which is, my mother just thought about what her mother would do and did the opposite.”
But what will happen when Janine learns the truth about Caleb?
We know, just like June knows, that Janine’s young son was killed in a car accident one year into Gilead’s regime, shortly after he was forcibly taken from his mother.
Previously, of course, June protected Janine by lying to her about Caleb’s fate. She told her that he was growing up in the sun of California, a sweet dream which kept Janine smiling in the face of Gilead’s horrors.
But will this lie come back to haunt them both? Only time will tell, we suppose.
What awaits Janine and June in Chicago?
Jacey Heldrich, who wrote episode four, tells TV Line: “We were so excited to get to Chicago. We spent so much time researching it, and we spent so much time reading about Aleppo and Kabul. Like, what do these cities that have been decimated but they haven’t been really occupied yet, what is life like there?
“So our conception of Chicago is that it is not Gilead. They are rebels, but they’re more just still fighting a war.”
Hopefully, Janine’s shocking decision at the end of the episode will provide June with the time she needs to properly regroup and come up with a real plan. Hopefully, she will be able to forge some real good in Chicago, and maybe find the true Mayday rebels she’s been so desperately searching for.
Will we ever see Hannah again?
As reported on 4 July, after episode three aired: Before The Handmaid’s Tale season 4 even began, one genius fan theory about the series began to gain traction on Reddit; that Hannah’s arc on The Handmaid’s Tale will lead up to the events of Margaret Atwood’s sequel, The Testaments.
For those who haven’t read the book (spoilers ahead), Hannah is given a new name, Agnes, and grows up in Gilead. With little to no recollection of her mother, she later becomes an Aunt, and is referred to by her rank as Aunt Victoria.
The user’s theory states: “Lydia will bring Hannah to become an Aunt when the time comes, and for June to set up the [Mayday] network in Canada for Lydia to send the inside information through. Due to the upper Commanders attempting to gain Fred back, they trade June for the Waterfords and attempt to demand Nichole as well, but Luke and Moira have sent Nicole into hiding with a couple underground. Moira keeps in contact with the couple and she and Emily start doing more for the resistance within Canada.”
Intriguing stuff, right?
Is it all over for Luke and June?
It seems for a wee while that Luke (O. T. Fagbenle) has given up on his wife entirely.
“She chose to stay in Gilead and she knew she’d probably get caught,” he tells Moira (Samira Wiley). “She knew she’d probably never see me again. She knew she’d probably never see either of us [he and Nichole] again. That’s the choice that she made, and I’ve got to respect it. I’ve got to respect her.”
Thankfully, though, the show decides not to strip away this last shred of hope from us; after a government liaison tells him about her own grandmother, who “used to bury a green persimmon in the backyard for luck,” Luke is shown taking baby Nichole to do the same in his own garden. He still believes, against all the odds, that June will find her way back to him. God, we hope this is truly the case.
Will June blame herself for the deaths of Alma, Brianna, and the others?
Miller certainly hopes so. Speaking to Variety, he explains: “I want her to feel responsible. Whether she feels guilty is a slippery thing because who’s guilty, who’s responsible? It’s really Gilead. But yes, she is weighted down, hugely, by what she has done, thought, wanted to do, how her desires have changed, how ruthless she’s become and how she finds satisfaction in violence sometimes.
“The entire show is, ‘Look what I’ve done. How can I resolve myself?’”
Will Serena Joy be forced into a life as a Handmaid?
As reported on 27 June, after episode two aired: After being shot in the stomach by a sniper, Serena was told she could never get pregnant – something which devastated her, as she had always dreamed of becoming a mother.
Considering that all signs have, too, pointed to her abusive husband Fred (Joseph Fiennes) being infertile, it’s likely that Serena will see this shock pregnancy announcement as… well, as something of a miracle.
However, in the brutal, misogynistic world of The Handmaid’s Tale, fertile women are a rare commodity, which means that – to Gilead’s Commanders, at least – Serena’s value is now wholly dictated by the inner machinations of her womb. And, while she’s in Canada at the moment, there’s every chance that she could be extradited back to Gilead, tagged up, and forced to don a red habit of her own.
Yes, she could become a Handmaid herself.
It’s a horrible kind of karmic retribution, true, but not an unlikely one, especially now that Serena has exposed herself as something of a troublemaker and a rebel (remember when she dared to read aloud?). And especially now that she and Fred are seemingly on opposite sides of a fight; he might not be able (or want) to save her.
Can June really trust Nick?
Face facts, people; Nick, who first slept with June under orders of Serena and fought in the Crusades to help make Gilead a reality in the early days, is a potential villain in the making. Yes, he seems to love June. Yes, they have a child together (or might do, anyway – more on that in a minute). And yes, he says he’s working deep undercover for Mayday… but he has risen insanely quickly up through the ranks of Gilead. Plus, he just stormed that safe house in a bid to track down all of those missing Handmaids, seemingly for nefarious reasons, and dragged June off to god knows where.
Yeah, we’re just not sure we trust Nick anymore. So sue us.
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Is Nick really Nichole’s biological father?
Look, if Fred can father children, that surely casts doubt on the identity of Nichole’s biological father. After all, he was regularly raping June (in accordance with Gilead’s horrendous reproductive rituals) at the same time that she and Nick were conducting their passionate love affair.
Is it so much a stretch of the imagination, then, to suggest that Fred, not Nick, is Nichole’s real father? And, if so, what does this mean for Serena and Fred’s custody battle to reclaim the little girl?
What happened to the other Handmaids?
Nick doesn’t have them, we know this much – but where are they? And do they have what it takes to stay hidden? We’d love to say yes to the latter, but it’s worth remembering that, during the raid at the start of this episode, it was June who kept the others cool, quietening them and giving orders to so they wouldn’t be detected.
To quote Han Solo, we have a bad feeling about this.
And who betrayed June and co?
It’s safe to assume that the safe house location was leaked… but by who? Esther seemed deeply unhappy with the idea that the Handmaids would be moving on without her, but we like to think that she wouldn’t respond with vengeance. And, to be honest, she’s so anti-Gilead that it would be completely out of character for her.
Who, then? Could it be that one of our Handmaids is (gulp) a spy? And, if so, which one?
Why does June encourage Esther to commit murder?
As reported on 14 June, following the season four premiere: Esther’s story might be one of the darkest we’ve yet seen in The Handmaid’s Tale, as we learn that the child bride’s husband has invited multiple men to his house and had them rape her in order to conceive a child.
One of those men, a Guardian, is caught loitering around the farmhouse – and June has him chained to the barn’s rafters, before giving us her best Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd) impression and whipping her fellow Handmaids up into a state of vengeful fury.
June, though, doesn’t deliver the final blow; instead, she hands a cleaver to Esther and encourages the 14-year-old to murder her own rapist, which the teenager does with nary a second thought.
It’s a frightening moment, and one which may give many viewers pause; has June, in mirroring the punishments and tactics of Gilead, become too similar to the enemy she has fought so hard to defeat? Quite possibly. However, one could argue that, by having a Wife kill a Guardian, our hero is helping to turn the future of Gilead against it from within; after all, she is, essentially, encouraging the snake to eat its own tail.
Why does June tell Esther that she loves her? And why does she refer to her as ‘Banana’?
Later in the episode, Esther – previously furious with June for not doing more to fight Gilead – slips into bed alongside the older woman and whispers that she loves her. June, delirious with pain, replies, “I love you too, Banana.”
You can remind yourself of this key moment by watching the scene below:
Now ‘Banana’, as fans of the show will no doubt remember, is the affectionate nickname that June uses for her actual daughter, Hannah (Jordana Blake). And, while it’s easy to assume that this moment in the show is all down to a feverish hallucination on June’s behalf, it goes deeper than that.
Why? Well, because June is no longer just a mother to the little girl she loves – the little girl who is still trapped in Gilead and being forced to do god knows what; she’s also a symbolic mother to every Handmaid, every Martha, every girl born into Gilead. And she sees it as her duty to rescue all of them from this tyrannical and misogynist society, if it’s the last thing she does.
On that note, then… is the show setting us up for a world without June?
Oh yes, I know what I said before; June is seemingly invincible (and very bad at escaping). However, and it’s a big however, she’s no longer the Handmaid of The Handmaid’s Tale.
Don’t believe me? All you need to do is listen to how Esther talks to her, and watch how her fellow Handmaids treat her, and it becomes abundantly clear that June has transformed into something far bigger than herself.
To Gilead’s rulers, she is the criminal who stole 86 children from them. To everyone else, she has – much like real life Argentine Marxist rebel Che Guevara – become a generic symbol of the underdog, the idealist, the mother, and the revolutionary hero. Or, as author Michael Casey notes in Che’s Afterlife: The Legacy Of An Image, “the quintessential postmodern icon signifying anything to anyone and everything to everyone.”
Essentially, she’s become bigger than herself and the story she’s weaving. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that June is (whisper it) destined to die a martyr – although, to be perfectly honest, she’s going the right way about it if she wants to. Rather, it means that she needs to be removed from the narrative within Gilead in order to a) make room for some new heroes, b) remind her fellow Handmaids and Marthas that they do not need to be led into battle by anyone, and c) regain some sense of humanity.
Thankfully, the trailer for this season has dropped a heavy hint (or five) that this is The Handmaid’s Tale stint that will see June finally reach Canada. Praise be, let it be true.
And is Aunt Lydia being set up as our new hero?
We often assume that the Aunts of Gilead are ‘safe’ from the regime’s cruelty, but the season four opener reminded us that this is not the case. At all. Indeed, when Aunt Lydia was called to speak with the Sons of Jacob, she bore obvious signs of torture from her interrogation by the Eyes.
Outwardly, she blamed June for everything that’s gone wrong, defending all the other Handmaids and insisting they not be blamed for our revolutionary’s transgressions. Outwardly, she promised to do her job well, and was allowed the chance to do so by the Sons.
Inwardly, though? Well, Lydia’s disdain for the Sons positively sizzled beneath the surface, and her humility in their presence felt… well, it felt horribly forced. And (spoilers ahead for The Testaments) it’s worth remembering that Atwood’s much-anticipated sequel to her original book shows us a very different side to Lydia, revealing that she is a source for Mayday in Canada, smuggling damaging information out of the country in order to bring about Gilead’s destruction.
Could it be that The Handmaid’s Tale is setting Lydia up on this same trajectory? We could use another antihero, after all…
The Handmaid’s Tale will continue on Sunday 1 August at 9pm on Channel 4.
Season one to three are available to stream via All 4.
Images: Channel 4/Hulu
Kayleigh Dray is Stylist’s digital editor-at-large. Her specialist topics include comic books, films, TV and feminism. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends.